Emergent Abundance

Spring has sprung here in Seattle!  After months of seemingly endless clouds and rain, even brief moments of springtime sunshine release tremendous surges of shared joy and optimism.  Springtime sunshine is a beautiful example of Emergent Abundance.  Sunshine is abundant on earth, ubiquitous and free for all.  Its abundance begets the emergence of plants and animals that, in turn, beget abundance for an emergent ecosystem.   Emergent abundance in our natural ecosystems reflects endless cycles of resource and information sharing and continuous value generation within mutually supportive and optimizing systems, where the individual thrives by helping others in the system thrive,

By contrast, our capitalist economy reflects self-reinforcing assumptions of competition and scarcity that drives, and is driven by, greed and fear.  Our conventional top-down hierarchies rely on controlling flows of information and resources to maximize profit for the few at the expense of the many and of the system.   Even those of us who aren’t business leaders may engage in “personal wealth management”.

Where do these assumptions come from? As we have pointed out many times, humans are part of nature, and competition, scarcity, greed and fear are natural — but they represent only a small part of nature.  The language we use around business is peppered with references to nature, with expressions like “pecking order”, “dog eat dog”, “leader of the pack”, or “king of the jungle”.  This language implies that nature is dominated by fierce competition and unbreakable top-down hierarchies.  Competition and top-down hierarchies certainly do exist in nature, but they are neither universal nor constant.  Successful species and ecosystems simply cannot afford to waste limited energy and resources constantly fighting.

In nature, competition is used sparingly to optimize reproduction and balances among consumers and resources.  Scarcity is a local phenomenon which is overcome through creativity and innovation.  Greed is temporary and drives preparation for periods of needing to go without.  Fear is used to help avoid unnecessary risk and danger.  All are present and necessary, yet none are dominant, and certainly not the underpinning principles of healthy ecosystems.

Nature is built on synergies and self-optimizing systems that generate continuous shared value — emergent abundance.  As a being of nature, you intuit this when you experience the shared joy and optimism of the springtime sun.  Can you imagine extending this emergent abundance to an economy driven by knowledge, understanding, ideas, and love?